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Standing Up for Yourself:

Assertive vs. Aggressive Responses

Bullying creates a climate of fear, especially for those who are targeted. One way to help your child take the power away from the bully and help them feel empowered, confident, and prepared, is to respond to bullying situations in an assertive way. Assertiveness means that a child being targeted expresses their feelings and defends their rights while respecting the feelings and rights of the bully. Research suggests that assertive responses are more likely to diffuse the situation, whereas aggressive responses are more likely to make the situation worse. It is important that your child practice these behaviors because research shows that when using assertive responses, thoughts of helplessness are replaced by thoughts of confidence (Storey & Slaby, 2008).

The table below compares examples of assertive and aggressive verbal and nonverbal responses. You can look at the table with your child and discuss, as well as practice, the different ways that they can use their voice, body language, and facial expressions to convey assertiveness in bullying situations.

Assertive Aggressive
Standing up for yourself Demeaning others
Relaxed facial expression Calling them names
Standing tall Raising your fist
Hands at sides Hands on hips or pointing fingers
Confident, calm voice Yelling and screaming
Asking for what you want Making threats


Storey, K. and Slaby, R. Eyes on bullying, what can you do? A toolkit to prevent bullying in children’s lives. Newton, MA: Education Development Center. Retrieved from http://www.eyesonbullying.org/pdfs/toolkit.pdf